The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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April 22, 2014

Mountaineers have benefited from incoming football transfers

Recruiting in college football seems to get more and more attention every season. Websites like and stalk the high school sidelines and blow up potential recruits’ cell phones in search of the latest information. But there’s one important aspect that often goes ignored — transfers.

Whether it was Jeff Hostetler (Penn State), A.B. Brown (Pitt) or Owen Schmitt (Wisconsin-River Falls), West Virginia’s football program has received a major boost over the years from players who originally played somewhere else.

It’s a trend that has continued under the watch of Dana Holgorsen, who’s entering his fourth season as the Mountaineers head coach.

If there was any bright spot for the 2013 WVU squad, which finished 4-8 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 12 seasons, it had to be the play of running back Charles Sims, a transfer from the University of Houston.

After playing three seasons with the Cougars, Sims took advantage of a rule that allows players who receive their degrees from a university to transfer to another school for graduate studies without having to sit out a year.

All he did in his one and only season in Morgantown was rush for 1,095 yards and 11 touchdowns and catch 45 passes for 401 yards and three more scores. He was a first-team All-Big 12 pick and the conference’s newcomer of the year.

“It worked out great for him,” said Holgorsen, who coached Sims in 2009 at Houston. “He knew what he was getting with me, so it made sense for him to come. He came to the Big 12 and adjusted quickly, and he was able to showcase his skills at the highest level possible. He was the newcomer of the year and gained a lot of respect from a lot of coaches across the country that hadn’t been able to see him.”

Holgorsen said he doesn’t go out looking for transfers, but when one falls in his lap, he’s not about to turn him away.

“Being able to get four-year guys that don’t have many issues — their grades are fine and they are graduating — is something coaches are interested in,” said Holgorsen during Tuesday’s post-spring Big 12 coaches teleconference, outlining the appeal of the graduate transfers. “We don’t take too many transfers, but if it’s a situation where a guy wants to come and their talent level is good enough, then it makes sense.”

WVU’s starting quarterback for 2014 could be one shining example. Clint Trickett played two seasons at Florida State, where his father, Rick, was the offensive line coach, and he had some success with the Seminoles, including stepping in to start against Clemson in 2011 and throwing for 336 yards and three touchdowns.

But when it became clear that Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy this past December, was going to be the future at quarterback for FSU, Trickett, who had already received his degree, began looking for a new home.

He quickly settled on WVU, a place where he had spent much of his youth when his dad was the offensive line coach for the Mountaineers under Rich Rodriguez.

Trickett battled injuries and inconsistency last fall and threw for 1,605 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions for the Mountaineers. He’ll be a senior in 2014 in a battle with fellow senior Paul Millard and junior college transfer Skyler Howard for the starting job.

Another transfer who could make a huge impact is Rushel Shell. A Pennsylvania high school record-holder for career rushing yards, Shell originally played for Pitt, but after one season he decided to leave. He flirted with a few schools on the West coast but eventually settled on WVU.

After sitting out the 2013 season, he’ll be part of a talented backfield this fall that includes Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie.

Although Holgorsen is quick to point out a program isn’t built on transfers, he also doesn’t deny that they can provide a huge boost.

“You have to do whatever you can to get the talent to compete,” he said. “I have seen (transfers) increase in recent years, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it continue.”

Sims will be awaiting his fate in the NFL Draft, where he’s projected as a third- or fourth-round pick. Shell, Trickett and the rest of the Mountaineers will begin the season Aug. 30 against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta, Ga.

— E-mail: chuffman and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.

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